Human Resources Today

There is no human failure greater than to launch a profoundly important endeavour and then leave it half done. - Barbara Ward


With any business strategy there inherently lies the potential for failure or, at minimum, that things won’t go exactly to plan. This can lead to frustration, nonperformance, and the downfall of even the best intentions. Unfortunately, activating a new employer brand strategy is not immune to these possibilities. So what can you do to avoid an employer brand breakdown and #EmployerBrandFail? Over the years and after working with many clients (including large, mid-size, global, domestic, Fortune 500, and privately-held), we have observed that employer brand failures most often stem from one or a mix of these five reasons.

1. The employer brand is inauthentic.

Our team will often say that “employer brands are not built in a boardroom.” We believe that employer brands are uncovered when we discover what’s inside the hearts and minds of employees. To do that, your employer brand needs to be grounded in in-depth research and data. Listen to employees, at all levels, first! This allows the brand to be authentic.

For employers to sell their employment experience externally to candidates, the experience has to resonate with the audience and have the internal support of employees. Where some employer brands fail is when they do not include the voice of non-management or hourly employees. If your business is a bank and yet you don’t speak with your tellers, how will you know what it’s really like to work there? Without a foundation rooted in research, an employer brand is destined for failure. (<-- Click to tweet!)

2. Key stakeholders aren’t on board.

For better or worse, employer brand is cross-functional. It doesn't fit cleanly into any one department. It touches Human Resources, Corporate Communications, Marketing, Social Responsibility, and so on. “In our experience, the friction tends to happen with Marketing because the employer brand work starts to encroach into their territory,” shares Lexi Gordon, chief operating officer and principal employer brand strategist at exaqueo. “[Marketing] often has a louder voice because their department is linked to sales, a bigger budget, and more experience partnering with agencies. So, if they get wind of work going on in HR that connects to their world, they are quick to take over.” Therefore, it’s important to bring Marketing to the table early on and establish a partnership. But it's also important to ensure HR's voice is not lost—they know their candidate and employee audiences the best. Remember that your customers aren’t necessarily your candidate and employee audiences.

3. The employer brand lacks connection.

For an employer brand to be effective, it cannot be seen as just “a talent acquisition thing” designed to increase applications in the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). To be successful, the employer brand has to be sponsored and supported by the highest levels of an organization, and then connected across the business through the entire candidate and employee experience. At exaqueo, we call this “pulling-through” the employer brand.

A successful employer brand is carried through and connected to all aspects of the candidate and employee experience. It can be seen in health and wellness programs, heard during team huddles and executive presentations, and felt during employee recognition events. Years ago, I worked at a global management consulting firm and our CEO pulled employer brand-related remarks into quarterly investor calls. Now that’s an embedded employer brand. To pull the employer brand through like this takes time and effort, but the result is worth the investment.

4. The brand execution lacks consistency.

Brands need consistency. Not just employer brands, but all brands. In fact, eight out of ten marketers agree consistency is important. Without it, a brand creates confusion, but with it a brand creates trust. (<--Click to tweet this!)

Once an employer brand is authentically built on research data, the brand can be trusted because it resonates internally with employees. It aligns with the business and talent strategies. And, it can be marketed externally to attract talent. Employer brand strategies fail when the employer brand becomes inconsistent (e.g. hiring managers or recruiters go rogue with their own messaging). Here’s an example:

Let’s say in your employer brand research you discover that people are working in silos and there are walls up between departments. This is a current reality of your organization. That’s not to say you don’t want to change. However, until it’s addressed, you can’t have your recruiters posting social updates and screaming from the rooftops that your culture is ‘collaborative.’ That’s inconsistent. It’s inauthentic. And new hires who thrive in a collaborative environment might leave when they realize the truth.

5. There is no sustainable brand support.

Effective and successful employer brands are not posters on the walls or one-time social media updates. They are long-term strategies, and it’s quite likely that your leadership team will not see an immediate return on their employer brand investment. In order to be successful, employer brands need to be designed with sustainability in mind. Brands need nurturing, which requires:

  1. People with the interest, know-how, and the right skills mix of strategy, creativity, execution, and analysis.

  2. Committed resources, this includes budget and people.

  3. Processes that enable content requests, creation, and approvals in a timely manner.

  4. Time.

Glassdoor research shows that 94 percent of job seekers are more likely to apply to a job if the organization actively manages its employer brand. Actively manages—not launches and leaves. To avoid an employer brand fail, it’s important to view efforts as a long and steady journey, not a short trip to the grocery store.

How to Ensure Employer Brand Adoption

Let’s clear the air a little by saying not all failure is bad. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” But to have your entire employer brand strategy breakdown, that’s what we’re trying to help you avoid. To negate failure, you must ensure the adoption of your employer brand. (<--Click to tweet!)

I mentioned earlier that employer brands are not built in a boardroom. Well, they are not built in a vacuum either. From the very beginning of your organization’s employer brand journey it’s important to bring the right people along. For some companies, this means the CEO, and for others, it means putting together a cross-functional work team. And a few months and many meetings later, when the team is ready to activate the brand, it’s important to think holistically about it. What are all the touch points your organization has with candidates and employees? How do you pull the employer brand all the way through, beyond just talent attraction?  

Finding and keeping people who will thrive inside your organization takes knowing who you are and what you stand for. It takes authenticity. Failing to launch, adopt, and manage it is 100% avoidable if you know what to do and what to look out for.

If you liked this post, be sure to check out this one: Making the Shift from Employer Brand Launch to Management


Shannon Smedstad (@shannonsmedstad) is an Engagement Director and Principal Employer Brand Strategist for exaqueo, an employer brand experience firm building employer brands and the talent strategies that drive them through research, consulting, and creative and digital execution. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research, and recruitment strategy offerings.

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